The Power of Reading then Rereading

Benjamin Disraeli captured my young imagination reading the writing work of Sarah Bradford. What I remember about her book, “Disraeli,” is this charismatic and resilient character, became one of the greatest leaders in England’s history.

Reading

I read this volume in college

You can only imagine my excitement, when I stumbled onto a new biography about him called, “Disraeli: The Novel Politician” by David Cesarani. For some years, I had wanted to revisit my fascination with him, and this new volume presents the opportunity.

Reading

The New Book on Disraeli

I discovered this new book, “Disraeli: The Novel Politician,” reading a book review in the Wall Street Journal by Benjamin Baliant. The book review is titled, “A Genius for Self-Invention.”

Reading the review reminded me why I originally fell in love with Disraeli. He was fighting against the odds, living by his wits, in an attempt to penetrate high society, which was closed to Jews.

Perhaps his Jewishness was what fascinated me about Disraeli. The fact that his background and lineage ran counter to everything necessary for success in English patrician society. Despite the odds Disraeli rose to the greatest heights serving as Prime Minister twice.

Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill, whose career Baliant says was helped along by Disraeli, explains his success in conquering those odds and obstacles.

Randolph Churchill once summarized Disraeli’s life as “failure, failure, failure, partial success, renewed failure, ultimate and complete triumph.”

Benjamin Baliant, A Genius for Self-Invention

His enduring determination and sense of destiny is again expressed in the words of Baliant describing his elective struggles.

At 32, after four times standing unsuccessfully for Parliament—then still the domain of landed aristocrats and monied peers—Disraeli was elected in 1837, the year Victoria acceded to the throne. His bombastic maiden speech at the House of Commons was greeted with hoots and foot-stomping. “I will sit down now,” he shouted above the din, “but the time will come when you will hear me.”

Benjamin Baliant, A Genius for Self-Invention

What I find fascinating is the imprint great men and women can make on our minds. Here I am, revisiting the emotional inspiration of someone I read about in college, by reading a new book to experience my fascination all over again.

Whenever I revisit a heroic figure I always learn something new about them, and as a consequence about me. This is the power of reading then rereading.

Time to purchase my new book, learn my new lessons, and deepen my belief that each of us has a destiny to reach no matter how difficult. Thank you Benjamin Disraeli for reaching yours.

Developing a Passion to Read!

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I love reading.  My mother was a teacher with a master’s degree in reading, and from my earliest years books were placed in my path.  In fact, when I was enjoying Iron Man and Captain America, she slipped Shakespeare comics into my stream.  For lighter fare, my dad offered me the fundamental importance of the sports page.  When I fell in love with basketball, one of the first things I did was purchase a book by Jerry West on how to play the game.

This is the book I purchased to teach me how to play the game!

This is the book I purchased to teach me how to play the game!

All of this made me a reader, and while school reading assignments added to my knowledge, it was the library where I found my passion.  One winter day in my senior year I entered the library with time on my hands.  My senior class load was the lightest I ever had, basketball season was over, and so with a lightened schedule load something drew me to the library.

For the first time in my life I wandered over to the fiction section of the library looking for a book to read.  I didn’t want to read a book like those from my literature classes.  The book I was looking for had to be different, unassigned, and speaking to my personal life experience.

The book I found and selected was “This Side of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I still remembered sitting down at the library table, opening up the hardcover book, and experiencing the tactile sensation only print books provide.  The first words of the book spoke to my soul.  For the first time, I was hearing a voice like my own.  I read this book with an unstoppable fiery passion as the windows of my mind were opened.  Approximately 5 months from college, I was traveling through time and experiencing campus life through the complicated thrills of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pen.  A fire was lit and from this point on, I read because I wanted to discover answers to life.  My search was no longer for information or knowledge, but understanding.

When we have a passion for reading it reaches beyond the brain, into the heart and soul.  We live the story because the story informs our own.

My passion for reading is why I changed my Tumblr account today.  After a few years of experimenting with Tumblr, I now understand it is the perfect place for me to share “great reads.”  The perfect place to inspire a passion to read in others.

Please check out “Fitzgerald’s Window,” which is where I will be collecting “great reads” on a regular basis for shared consumption.

The Generalist

“The great strategists of the past kept forests as well as the trees in view. They were generalists, and they operated from an ecological perspective. They understood that the world is a web, in which adjustments made here are bound to have effects over there— that everything is interconnected. Where, though, might one find generalists today? . . . The dominant trend within universities and the think tanks is toward ever-narrower specialization: a higher premium is placed on functioning deeply within a single field than broadly across several. And yet without some awareness of the whole— without some sense of how means converge to accomplish or to frustrate ends— there can be no strategy. And without strategy, there is only drift.”

Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree

There are in my mind three great forces at work in the world.   They are economics, religion, and politics. Everything else is simply a trend.

Rereading Thomas Friedman’s “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” caused me to consider my writing in light of these three great forces, and what he calls the “generalist.”  I wondered whether I was neglecting my natural inclination to be a generalist, because of all the spectacularly successful specialist in Silicon Valley?

My conclusion is I am a generalist.  This means my writing must change to see the whole, which means considering the influence of the three great forces at work in the world.   I look forward to the adventure.

My Top 5 Books of 2015

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I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial”

Winston Churchill

Destiny was my reading discovery in 2015.  It was an unintended but welcome consequence of reading superb writing about people who changed the world.  What follows is my top five books from my 2015 reading list with a brief reason for their selection.

#1 Traitor To His Class

H.W. Brands has always been a dry read for me, but “Traitor To His Class,” subtitled “The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt” breaths fire.  I have read a number of books about Franklin Roosevelt, but none clarified his personal courage, radical nonconformity, and visionary hopefulness quite like this volume.  By the time I reached the end of the book I wanted to change the world.  What I learned was it would have been far easier for Roosevelt to choose a comfortable life of privilege, but he instead embraced a radical life of service, which lead him into a destiny which gave hope to a despairing world.

#2 Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye

This book is authored by Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers with Joe McCarthy.  I actually read this book in college, and remembered being inspired, so I embarked on a reread.   O’Donnell and Powers were close friends and White House assistants to John F. Kennedy.  Their story is an emotional one, filled with personal antidotes of the intimate journey they traveled with Kennedy from beginning to end.  Read this book if only for the account of the hunting trip at Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch.  The lesson I learned is John F. Kennedy became president in large part because he had great friends, who recognized their destiny was inextricably tied to his. They sacrificed their individuality so that together with him they could turn the ideas of the New Frontier into a national reality.

#3 The Georgetown Set

Lloyd James beat out my favorite historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and her book “The Bully Pulpit” as my favorite about journalism, and as a result took second place.  His book “The Georgetown Set” was riveting from beginning to end.   Having lived in DC, and witnessed the importance of political journalism, it was inspiring to see and feel the power of relationship described in its pages.  Subtitled “Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington,” I was left wishing for this type of courageous relationship journalism as contrasted with the ratings motivated media of today.  The lesson I learned is the major players in the spotlight are not always the most influential people on the ground.  Whether we appear large or small in the eyes of people, we should embrace our destiny, because our potential for influence could be greater than we imagine.

#4 The Wright Brothers

I still can’t remember what possessed me to read “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough.  When it was initially published, I questioned why anyone would write a history about the discovery of air flight and the invention of the airplane.  After reading this book, which I began begrudgingly, two things became clear.  David McCullough is the premier historical storyteller of our time, and the Wright Brothers story needed to be told.  Their curiosity, courage, and endurance can be applied to any area of life for inspiration.  What truly moved me was the relationship between Wilbur and Orville, and that destiny is not about the individual but rather the team or in this case family!

#5 Destiny and Power

First of all, I am a Jon Meacham fan, because he embraces a political neutrality, which allows him to see deep into the soul of those whose lives he documents.  I am also a political junkie, whose entire childhood was shaped by a family of democrats living in a republican stronghold.  Both of these facts explain why I am a political independent…I like to see both sides.   Reading Destiny and Power I saw both sides, and came away impressed with George H.W. Bush.  Meacham does a wonderful job giving voice to the elder Bush through the very honest and compelling diary accounts of the former president.  I have never read anything from a president as humble, vulnerable, and authentic.  No matter where you stand politically (and I don’t agree on a lot with Bush), it is impossible not to appreciate the personal life of George H.W. Bush.  The lesson I learned is you don’t have to believe you are better than everyone else to believe you have an important destiny to fulfill.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Crucible of Command by William C. Davis
  2. C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Robin Sachs
  3. Education of a Coach by David Halberstam
  4. Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender, Rick Tetzelli
  5. Brothers, Rivals, Victors by Jonathan W. Jordan
  6. Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne
  7. Wilson by A. Scott Berg

 

 

 

Two Steps From Good to Great

Jim Collins is one of my favorite thinkers and writers.  I have reopened his book Good to Great thirteen years after my initial reading.   I discovered two things.  All quotes are from his book Good to Great.

Level 5 Leadership

Thirteen years ago I was inspired by his definition and explanation of Level 5 leadership.   What surprised me is how much influence his ideas have had on my own view of leadership.   In fact, without really knowing it the standard I have been holding myself to is Level 5 leadership.   There are two core qualities possessed by the Level 5 leader.

  1. Compelling Modesty – personal humility or never wanting to become “larger-than-life heroes.  They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.”
  2. Unwavering Resolve – professional will or a person with “ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great.”

While I realize I may never reach this level of leadership it remains my gold standard.

Hedgehog or Fox?

In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Jim Collins, Good to Great

I failed to see the significance of the Hedgehog and Fox in my first reading of Good to Great.  My eyes have now been opened.  The Hedgehog is about focus and simplicity.  The Fox is about overreach and complexity.

I must become the Hedgehog.  Perhaps I will write more on this in the future.  Until then…are you the hedgehog or the fox?